Wilderness Character on Shenandoah's Old Rag Mountain: Opportunities for Solitude
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The Shenandoah Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1976, and includes areas that receive extensive use from day hikers and backpackers alike. One such area within the Shenandoah Wilderness is Old Rag mountain, a popular destination for hikers seeking a challenging hike that offers scenic vistas and a rock scramble, and which can be hiked in a day. The Wilderness Act of 1964 states that wilderness areas must be managed to provide “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation,” which presents a challenge to wilderness managers in Shenandoah National Park who seek to avoid placing undue restrictions on the number of people having access to the mountain. The objective of this study was to answer three fundamental questions posed by the Backcountry and Wilderness division at Shenandoah National Park, providing managers with much-needed information about the existing conditions and trends in use along the Old Rag loop trail. The questions addressed in the study are how many people are currently using the Old Rag trail, what is the temporal distribution of that use, and what experiences and opportunities for solitude are visitors having on the Old Rag trail? Through manual and automated collection of field data and the development of a Hiking Simulation Model, this study estimates that between 71,600 and 86,500 visitors are using the trail annually, that there is significant temporal variation in use patterns at the hourly, daily, and monthly time scale, and that opportunities for solitude vary greatly along with use patterns. While it is clear that opportunities for solitude and associated visitor experiences are sometimes impaired, this has been the case throughout the history of the park’s wilderness. It is recommended that managers provide additional public education and information, continue to build upon the baseline data collected in this study, and monitor trends in visitor use to ensure that opportunities for solitude are not degrading over time.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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